Bishops to congress: “The proposed cuts to programs…fail a basic moral test.”

“The Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits our country faces, and we acknowledge that Congress must make difficult decisions about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices and balance resources and needs. However, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it is the proper role of government to ‘make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on’ (no. 1908).

Poor and vulnerable people do not have powerful lobbyists to advocate their interests, but they have the most compelling needs.As you pursue responsible deficit reduction, the Catholic bishops join other faith leaders and people of good will urging you to protect the lives and dignity of poor and vulnerable families by putting a circle of protection around these essential programs and to refrain from cuttingprograms that serve them.”

– USCCB letter to House of Representatives on the budget, 8 May 2012.

Read it here.

For additional context, check the USCCB website.


  1. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    I confess, I’m confused. The bishops are certainly right that vulnerable people do not have powerful lobbyists to go to bat for them. But then, here’s Ryan saying that the cuts amount to 123% over the next decade as opposed to 125%, which hardly seems like a cut so much as a slightly lower increase. Which is it? Something is amiss here.

  2. Only in Washington is slowing down the rate of increase in spending considered a “cut”.

    Ron Paul is right, cut the wars, cut corporate subsidies, cut our 900 foreign military bases in 120+ countries.

    You need to have priorities. How can you put wars and corporate giveaways over child healthcare?

  3. Ok I don’t think anyone can argue with the bishops statement, but from a practical
    perspective, where do they expect the government to get the money to pay for this?

  4. The same place they got it in 2003-08.

  5. ron chandonia says:

    Good point about priorities. The Ryan budget is a problem because it is the opposite of the preferential option for the poor–in this case, the interests of the poor are the LAST to be considered. Ron Paul is a bit of a nutcase, but he is right that the US should get out of the business of policing the world and providing handouts to “needy” international corporations.

  6. Don from NH says:

    The bishops letters are going to fall on deaf republican ears. When will they realize that they are being used and will continue to be used by the republican party.

  7. There are many, many Catholics, unfortunately, who will reject what the bishops have expressed in this statement. And most of those Catholics will do so without ever considering themselves “cafeteria Catholics” — a term they bandy about when condemning Catholics who disagree with Church teaching in other areas. Some of the folks who dissent from the social justice teachings of the Church (out of loyalty to Paul Ryan and the rest of the right wing of the GOP) will likely see “socialist” tendencies in what the bishops are saying. Yet the bishops are quoting from the catechism. You can find those very same lines (the section 1908 material) on the Vatican website.

    I’m a cafeteria Catholic on some issues; I’m able to admit that. I wish those on the right who scoff at economic justice for the poor would admit that their dissent also makes them cafeteria Catholics — not in line with how the Church interprets Christ’s message — rather than running down promoters of the common good (social justice) as unamerican, socialistic, etc.

  8. If we cannot ever cut the growth of programs then we are doomed. All the cuts amount to is instead of one percent growth, it’s a little less percent growth. I’m sorry the Bishops are wrong; this is hardly immoral.

  9. I didn’t mean “one” as in 1%, I meant a percent of a particular figure.

  10. How is it “cafeteria catholics” to have a different assessment of how much the poor should receive? Government provides shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor. Where’s the lack of dignity?

    And guess what? If Ryan’s budget is passed, the government will still provide shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor. Where’s the lack of dignity? The budget is basically reducing the rate of growth of these programs.

    It’s not easy being poor. I grew up poor myself and my parents were on welfare. But let’s not jump to conclusions that there is no care for the poor.

  11. FrMichael says:

    Until the bishops put out a sample budget explaining how this country can go forward without trillion dollar federal deficits as far as the eye can see– until bankrupcy or hyperinflation consumes us– this statement will rightly be seen as the hot air that it is.

  12. deaconnecessary says:

    End the nonsense in Afghanistan, bring our troops home. Just think how money the government would save….

  13. Manny & Elizabeth Scalia: Paul Ryan and his supporters have suggested that the cuts he has proposed to social programs (including health care access and food, in addition to cuts to non-”social programs” such as education funding) would not hurt everyday folks much. He has indeed claimed that he’s only proposing reducing the rate of increase. Yet his budget actually results in REDUCED benefits — in both the short and long term — to Americans who are poor.

    The following excerpt is from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which I will admit is a progressive group, non some nonpartisan entity. (But then again, Paul Ryan and the House Republicans who have got his back are not exactly nonpartisan, either). “SNAP,” by the way, refers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as food stamps.

    “The cuts would affect every SNAP household. Some 2 million individuals, disproportionately working families and seniors, would lose SNAP entirely. The remaining 44 million individuals who receive SNAP would see their benefits cut. For example, in September 2012, every household of four would see its benefits cut by $57 a month; households of three would lose $31 a month.” Here’s the link:

    The Republican Party can and will argue that Paul Ryan’s budget does not hurt poor people. Yet the Ryan budget does hurt low-income Americans — even as it ensures still larger tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, people who are most able to help pay for the stability (e.g., good access to education, health care, infrastructure, national defense, first responders) on which any civilized society and sustained economic growth depends. The Ryan budget hurts real people — poor people, and older people (who will end up with a “voucher” instead of guaranteed health care benefits that are part of Medicare). In all likelihood, that’s why the bishops spoke up.

  14. Fr. Michael, you’re right: Deficits will need to be dealt with, and how to do that is a sticky problem. However, the solution to large deficits certainly does not involve cutting the top tax rate (i.e., the one that the wealthiest pay) from 35% to 25% — which is a major component of the Ryan budget. (Nor does the solution involve, I would argue, keeping the Bush-era tax cuts in place indefinitely, as Ryan has also proposed. Those are the tax cuts that helped take the country off the track of balanced budgets that existed at the end of the Clinton era.)

  15. Midwest Girl says:

    When did it become the government’s job to singularly care for the poor?

    While some social programs are imperative, it’s also important to remember Jesus called us AS INDIVIDUALS to take care of the poor, not the government. By sacrificing to give to our food pantries, pregnancy resource centers, and other social programs, we, as Christians, have the opportunity to grow in holiness. I don’t grow in holiness by paying taxes because I’m forced to do such. Perhaps if we paid less in taxes, individuals would give more to social programs.

    As a former cashier at a supermarket for nearly ten years, I’ve seen a lot of waste in the SNAP and WIC system. Many people on SNAP would purchase large quantities of soda, candy, and other “junk” foods, including the non-healthy frozen dinners. Next, many of them would purchase $20-50 worth of cigarettes, beer, and more. The SNAP allowance per person per month is more than my husband and I budget for groceries in a month. Granted, we work hard to buy chicken (because it’s cheaper than hamburger) and more.

    Several years ago, my friend was on WIC. She gave me extra food each month because she was being given so much food not simply because she couldn’t eat it because of the large quantity given (which was the case) but the food she DIDN’T LIKE.

    There are people on these programs that truly need assistance, and use it as a “leg-up.” However, we also need to encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own actions.

  16. Yeah, so???? Of course there will be cuts. The government is in huge deficit. We all have to tighten our belts. But that doesn’t change my point, which I will copy over:

    “Government provides shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor. Where’s the lack of dignity?

    And guess what? If Ryan’s budget is passed, the government will still provide shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor. Where’s the lack of dignity? The budget is basically reducing the rate of growth of these programs.”

    Will there be less? Of course. But no one is going to go destitute. Look at the salaries across the board. Income has come down pretty much across the board. The whole country has had to tighten its belt.

  17. Exactly. All these criticisms are in the abstract. I want to see the actual amount cut and how that effects people. Critics who claim people will die and or go homeless are always speaking in the abstract. Let them show actual budget numbers and how those budgets will not meet the needs.

  18. Unless those cuts spur economic growth. Economic growth is what is needed. The economy is stagnant. What is your plan for economic growth?

  19. History shows that extensive tax cuts for the “rich”, of which I am part, at least where I live, and austerity for others leads to nothing. Lets see when tax rates were higher in the past, we had growth, lower tax rates in the immediate past not so much. Please prove that Ryan’s plan will spur economic growth. Especially since businesses are sitting on trillions of dollars and not investing them.
    Economic growth occurs when people spend, austerity reduces the amount of spendable income, because it reduces the number of people employed, both in the private and public sectors. As they spend less, companies, producers produce less which means fewer jobs in those industries, and the cycle continues.
    Ryan’s plan does nothing to stop the downward cycle, in fact is may intensify it. Deficits are a problem, but the problems starts when we cut income without cutting expenditures – two wars without paying for them (borrowing from other countries to pay for them, the donut hole (without a way to control cost, upsets the big pharma, continued subsidies for gas and oil companies, the list is pretty large. Maybe when Mr. Ryan suggests we cut those subsidies, that we allow for bulk negotiations for medicines among other areas, as well as looking at programs in the safety netI will believe he has a plan. Until then he is a shill for the masters of our country, big business.

  20. I don’t believe that the bishops have made their case here. Again, an increase of 123% over the next 10 years, instead of 125% is not what I would call a decrease in spending.

    In addition, who says that government must do everything. If that is the case, then why are we, as Catholics, asked to support soup kitchens, clothing drives, etc.

    Maybe the church should stop being a social services agency?

  21. Well, you have disagreements between economists on that. I still haven’t seen a credible graowth plan from this administration.

    And the war amounts to 2 or 3 % of the budget. Don’t blame the war for the deficit. That’s a nice Liberal deception.

  22. Since when is it the job of the bishops to put out a sample government budget? They’re bishops, not economists. It is however certainly within their purvue to analyze any budget for its effect on the population and speak out when necessary.

    Besides, If we’re all so concerned about the deficit then repeal the Bush tax cuts. Half of your deficit problem will go away.

  23. 2 or 3 percent? Lemme see, the current budget is about $3.5T. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are running about $170B/year. That’s 5%, not 2 or 3. But wait – We’re only getting tax receipts of $2.5T – a deficit of $1T! Oh, but I’m certain that the government is paying for the wars out of the budget paid for by tax receipts and not the part serviced by floating more debt. Of course you also might think that we could eliminate 17% of the deficit by bringing our troops home, but….talk about liberal deception.

  24. @Paulus

    I guess it depends where you get the numbers. You’re also looking at the last year in the 170B. It has not been that high. The war has cost about one trillion over ten years, which is about 2 or 3%.

    Even at five percent, that’s hardly driving the deficit. It’s social programs that are driving the deficit.

  25. So you put one out? None of the critics put out a budget. Show me the ramifications of reducing the rate of graowth to 123% from 125% over ten years? You guys on the left always talk in abstractions when it comes to the budget. Show me what effect that reduction of growth will have.

  26. So I can’t criticize Ryan’s budget without offering one of my own? Don’t make me laugh. First off that 123-125 number you keep waving around is just for Medicaid. Medicaid comprises about 8% of the current budget. Why you believe that you can balance the budget by cutting 2% off 8% is completely beyond me. Furthermore I see that Ryan’s budget cuts about $380B out of mostly social programs while increasing the Defense budget next year by $8B. Uh huh. I see where his priorities are. Of course I guess I should be thankful he didn’t recommend cutting Defense by $380B and increasing social spending by $8B – I don’t think my heart could withstand the shock.

    What boggles my mind is that in ten years we’ve gone from Dick Cheney declaring that deficits don’t matter – and behaving like it – to the problem of the deficit being the End Of The World As We Know It.

  27. I guess that I should not be surprised when I see Catholics acting like protestants. After all, I have come to learn that many (most?) Catholics adhere not to the creedal exegesis as defined in The CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) but to the alternative version, the CCCC (Cafeterialism for Cultural & Cradle Catholics). Going through my own RCIA experience as a convert and then as a sponsor exposed me to the dangers of what 30 or 40 years of poor catechesis can do to The Body of Christ. But…I digress. First, a comment or two on the USCCB letter. Our Bishops are at their best when they are defending and defining the Faith, as in the response to the HHS mandate. However, as has been the case throughout recent history, they exemplify the Peter Principle (not St. Peter) when they stray off into the deep weeds of political policy exegesis, as demonstrated with the Obamacare fiasco and now this rather clumsy at trading mitre for green eye shade. I have come to expect selective quotation of scripture and Magisterium (CCC) from both the progressive Catholic commentariat and their protestant brethren, but not from our Bishops. If you are going to cite CCC 1908, then you also need to include 1907, 1909 and 1910. And while you peruse those sections for appropriate context, jump over to Article 3 Social Justice, and read it all, but especially 1928 and 1929. And in the back of your mind, keep the proper ordered balance of the Church’s teaching on the complimentary principles of “solidarity” and “subsidiarity”. Paul Ryan is correct. Developing a dependency culture is neither respectful of the person (1907) nor their dignity (1929), and is actually contrary to the core teaching of 1908, the section cited in the USCCB letter. Section 1908 states that the proper function of authority (government) is to “make accessible to each what is needed”. The key phrase is “make accessible”. It means that the government should be in the business of facilitating equal opportunity (access), not equal outcomes, and this certainly does not mean the government becomes the means of provision. When that happens, the principle of subsidiarity and Christian charity are destroyed, as evidenced by the ease at which progressive Catholics and protestants transfer their personal responsibility to be their brother’s keeper to a nameless, faceless bureaucrat, because it is easier that way. Do we think that the collapse of European culture, European economic stability and European Christianity are independent phenomena? No, they are all related to the denial of truth, and primarily the truth as properly presented in the teaching Magisterium of the Church. Social Justice is the most misunderstood and misappropriated term in the Catholic lexicon, and it is high time that progressive Catholics stopped acting like protestants, and set aside their own personal “living magisterium”.

  28. Art ND'76 says:


    I have a couple of CCC citations to add:

    1883. Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”

    1885. The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

    Paragraph 1882 also talks about how VOLUNTARY associations (as in NOT a COERCIVE government) should be encouraged to perform works of mercy.

  29. Unfortunately,what Paul Ryan means by subsidiarity is taking power out of the federal government BUT putting such power in the hands of the individual states.


  1. [...] I: William McGurn writing on the budget and quoting Dorothy Day.UPDATE II: USCCB is saying the proposed cuts fail a basic moral test UPDATE III: Ed Driscoll is subbing for the vacationing Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit, and he [...]

Leave a Comment